According to research (SiriusDecisions), B2B procurement cycles have lengthened 22% over the past five years: a significant increase that must be addressed by B2B agencies and their clients, this according to B2B specialists Vertical Marketing (Wimborne).
The reasons for longer cycle lengths are many and include the fact that the number of stakeholders has increased. Further, reduced budgets mean tighter purse strings and an increased reticence to spend without complete due diligence.
The trend is not likely to abate in the current economic climate; so the challenge for B2B agencies and their clients is to develop strategies that can help shorten the process and speed the final sale.
“Our technically-oriented clients, in particular, are finding the longer cycle to be a drag on profits and growth,” explains Paul Barlow, MD of Vertical Marketing. “As marketers we want to help speed the cycle by delivering the right information needed to the right person, in the right format at the right time at any point in the process. In the recent past, it wasn’t cost effective to personalise, if you will, the product offering and concomitant information: every primary stakeholder got the entire information package, usually at the beginning of the cycle. That was that. The information didn’t change to address particular questions or individual data needs. Today, with the advent of social networking platforms, it’s possible and necessary to identify each persona and his or her information requirements, and then deliver a customised package in the preferred format as soon as it’s needed. Not before, not after.”
B2B offerings tend to be complex and purchase decisions are rarely impulse driven; buyers usually spend a lot of time on upfront research. It’s important for companies to be a part of that information gathering process. Social networking tools offer exceptional avenues for knowledge sharing that can educate prospects and facilitate faster decisions. By providing this almost real-time, two-way communication, companies not only inform but also build trust and credibility that can work to complete sales in less time.
Achieving a shorter procurement cycle has a direct impact on the bottom line, of course; and there’s an additional advantage: a shorter cycle reduces the chances of things going awry during the process.
“Clients and marketing professionals have questioned the use of social platforms in B2B and rightly so,” notes Barlow. “With increasingly longer procurement cycles we are confronted with a substantial obstacle to profitability. It’s a challenge and one that social networking and integrated marketing can help resolve.
From the perspective of shortening the procurement cycle, social networking and marketing strategies can be used to:
• Enhance the prospect’s confidence in the company, in part, by establishing thought leadership and positively affecting preconceived notions;
• Position the product for easier acceptance by ‘preselling’ advantages, features, costs and financing options and addressing concerns early in the cycle;
• Explain product benefits to each participant in terms they understand, citing only those benefits that are of interest to that stakeholder and made available on the platform each prefers;
• Standardise the sales force behind a consistent message.
Barlow continues: “In the current economic climate, there is nothing more critical to our clients’ success than helping to make each step of the sales/procurement process as efficient, smooth and, in a sense, as enjoyable as possible to all stakeholders. The narrative we tell each persona and the clearly personalised information we deliver comprise the essence of what’s been dubbed ‘the new marketing.’ Honestly, we believe it’s either adapt and prosper or… well… there’s really no other alternative, is there?”